When I travel I like to prepare myself by reading books from the country I’m visiting. When I visited Portugal I read Saramago, when I went to Prague I read some short stories about the city and now that I’m preparing for a trip to Scotland I’m reading Muriel Spark and James Hogg.
I’m not the only one who likes to prepare a trip this way and so online travel specialist Travelbird started an interesting project: they asked ambassadors from all over the world which book they think best represents their country. You can find the list here, and it can be nice to scroll through, especially if you plan on visiting one of the included countries. Most ambassadors recommend real classics, like Juan José Quintana, an ambassador of Colombia, who recommends One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Not all books seem like a logical choice though: Jetter Nordam, ambassador for Denmark, says Out of Africa by Karen Blixen best represents his country. Blixen is a very renowned Danish author, but it does seem a bit weird to recommend a book that takes place in Kenia instead of Denmark. Dutch ambassador Matthijs van Bonzel recommends Miffy (or in Dutch, Nijntje), a children’s book which is very popular internationally, but is a children’s book about a bunny really the best thing to represent the Netherlands?
Big bummer about this list however is the diversity. The initiative is really nice and this is a wonderful opportunity to create a good list of world literature, however, the list does not include any recommendations from Asia or sub-saharan Africa. I asked the organisation about this and they answered with an explanation of their research methods: they send emails to around 500 embassies, in 53 countries and got around a 100 answers. From these answers, they picked the ones that were from the ambassadors themselves – so not from press officers or other spokespersons. I understand these choices, however, the result is that the list knows so little diversity that it loses its strength. You can’t make a list claiming it has recommendations “from all over the world” and then not include such a big part of the world. I understand they didn’t get any reactions from the ambassadors of those countries, but when this is the result they should have emailed another time or they should have included answers that did not came from the ambassador directly.